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Diagnosis of Epilepsy

  • Cynthia M. Johnson, MA
Publication Type:

Condition InDepth

Diagnosis of Epilepsy

The doctor will take a health history and may ask about:

  • Past health history
  • Family health history
  • Medicines currently or recently taken
  • The seizure:
    • What a person was feeling or doing before it happened
    • The age when it started
    • If there was any warning before it
    • What the seizure looked like to others
    • If there were any symptoms after the seizure, such as being unable to move, tongue biting, or loss of bladder function
    • How long the seizure lasted
    • How many seizures a person has had

A physical exam may be done. Special focus will be given to the nervous system. Tests will be done to see if a person has epilepsy and the type of seizures they have.

Placement of Sensors for an EEG.

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  • Brain activity may need to be tested. This can be done with:
    • EEG
    • Magnetoencephalogram
  • Brain scans may also be needed. These can be done with:
  • Blood tests may be done to check for causes of the seizures, such as:
    • Metabolic problems with levels of sugar, calcium, sodium, potassium, or magnesium
    • Problems with the immune system that can be related to hidden cancer (called paraneoplastic syndromes)
    • Genetic problems
    • Infections, such as encephalitis, meningitis, or HIV
    • Lead poisoning
  • Urine tests may be done.
  • A lumbar puncture may be done to check brain and spinal cord fluid.
  • Motor skills, behaviors, and intelligence may need to be tested. This can be done with:
    • Developmental tests
    • Neurological tests
    • Behavioral tests


  • Diagnosing epilepsy. Epilepsy Foundation website. Available at: http://www.epilepsy.com/learn/diagnosing-epilepsy. Accessed April 7, 2022.
  • Epilepsy in adults. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/condition/Epilepsy-in-adults. Accessed April 7, 2022.
  • Epilepsy in children. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/condition/Epilepsy-in-children. Accessed April 7, 2022.
  • Epilepsy information page. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke website. Available at: https://www.ninds.nih.gov/Disorders/All-Disorders/Epilepsy-Information-Page. Accessed April 7, 2022.
  • Seizure disorders. Merck Manual Professional Version website. Available at: http://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/neurologic-disorders/seizure-disorders/seizure-disorders. Accessed April 7, 2022.
  • Serafini A., Lukas R.V., et al. Paraneoplastic epilepsy. Epilepsy Behav. 2016; 61: 51-58.


  • Rimas Lukas, MD
Last Updated:

This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.